Verbum Ultimum: Dartmouth’s New Hope
Sian Leah Beilock’s appointment as the next President of the College provides a promising outlook for Dartmouth’s future.
This summer, the College announced that Sian Leah Beilock would be taking over as President of the College following current President Phil Hanlon’s retirement at the end of this academic year. This news represents an important milestone in Dartmouth’s over 250-year history, as Beilock is the first ever woman to serve in this position. This Editorial Board joins the many students who celebrated the long overdue decision to elect a woman to lead the College, and we believe that Beilock’s background as an accomplished cognitive science researcher, a previous college administrator and a mother make her particularly well-qualified for this appointment. Additionally, her extensive educational experience at public institutions provides her with an outsider perspective that makes her uniquely qualified to tackle some of the most salient issues on Dartmouth’s campus.
Over the past several years, Dartmouth has experienced mental health crisis on campus. Although the College has made some efforts to address this problem — including increasing counseling staff, allowing students to make counseling appointments online and working with the JED foundation — there still is much work to be done. Fortunately, much of Beilock’s research as a cognitive scientist has focused on the phenomenon of “choking under pressure” in stressful situations — such as the very situations that Dartmouth students regularly endure both in and out of the classroom. We are hopeful that her research will provide her with the opportunity to approach the College’s mental health policies with an intensity and intentionality that we have yet to see from the current administration.
Even more, Beilock’s experience as a professional with a young child provides her with insight into the unique challenge of balancing childcare with a demanding career. With the current administration failing to address the faculty’s concern regarding the limited support available for those with children, we hope that having a president who can empathize with this challenge may result in efforts to improve faculty access to childcare.
In terms of her own educational background, Beilock comes to Dartmouth as an Ivy League outsider. Unlike many of the College’s previous presidents, Beilock does not hold a degree from the College. Rather, she attended the University of California San Diego and Michigan State University for her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees, respectively — both of which are public institutions. Although she currently serves as president of Barnard College — which is tethered to its Ivy League neighbor, Columbia University — Barnard’s demographic makeup differs significantly from that of the typical Ivy League. Not only is Barnard’s student body entirely composed of self-identifying women, but it is also 55% students of color. This perspective may allow Beilock to steer Dartmouth into a new direction — a direction that is not only more diverse, but one that is also unafraid to let go of outdated policies that have been maintained in the name of tradition.
Beilock’s experience leading a student body composed entirely of women may also position her to better handle issues relating to power-based violence, which disproportionately impacts self-identifying women. This is not to say that men cannot adequately address power-based violence, but rather, we have seen deficiencies in the way the College administration has handled them thus far — and we are hopeful that Beilock may provide a perspective that is notably distinct from those of the outgoing and previous administrations.
As we look ahead to Beilock’s tenure next summer, we are encouraged by the way her broad range of experiences appear to have prepared her for this role. It seems Beilock’s election is not merely a good decision, but an immensely timely one. Dartmouth is in dire need of new leadership that students have faith in, of leadership that is not simply set on maintaining the status quo but continuing to push this institution forward — both of which Beilock is positioned to do.
Perhaps, the fact that she is the first woman to serve as President of the College is the perfect reflection of this timeliness — as it demonstrates the demand for change and represents an important step forward for Dartmouth. This is not to say that we are to hold her to an easier standard because she is a woman; such a suggestion would be insulting to Beilock’s sweeping expertise and experience. Rather, the fact that the ultimate glass ceiling at Dartmouth has at last come crashing down through the selection of this extremely accomplished woman is a promising and notable milestone — and we urge the College to not stop there. We are hopeful that this change is just the beginning of a period of continued progress for the College we call home.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.